In the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night in Las Vegas, the candidates attacked each other, with each trying to diminish their rivals in an attempt to elevate themselves among voters. However, the moderators diminished themselves in failing to bring up the topic of cannabis.
Nevada legalized cannabis via a ballot initiative in 2016, and the location of the debate presented a perfect opportunity for debate moderators to engage the issue. They did not. That failure highlights a real misunderstanding among media elite about the importance of the matter.
Even as a majority of states have legalized medical cannabis and more than 20% of Americans live in states that have legalized adult-use cannabis, mainstream media views cannabis as a fringe policy that matters little to the national conversation. Yet, cannabis policy engages a variety of other issues that Democratic candidates typically chomp at the bit to discuss. Cannabis policy includes race relations, criminal justice, social justice, tax fairness, entrepreneurship, the environment, agriculture, states’ rights, among other issues.
In a state as diverse as Nevada, one would think that a decision by voters to shift away from prohibition would be worthy of at least one question. Cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color in significant ways. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are arrested for cannabis-related crimes, and the effect of those arrests interrupt the success of entire communities. Economic and educational opportunities are dashed by convictions that hang over individuals for the remainder of their lives. Black and brown Americans face tremendous barriers not simply because of cannabis policy, but because of the manner in which that policy is enforced.
Debate moderators could have discussed the statistics around cannabis enforcement in ways that allowed Democratic candidates both to discuss the